Arsenal: Cech, Holding, Mustafi, Monreal, Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Gibbs, Alexis, Ozil, Giroud
Subs: Ospina, Gabriel, Elneny, Coquelin, Iwobi, Walcott, Welbeck
Two second half goals gave Arsenal a 2-0 win against Sunderland at the Emirates this evening, but the visitors had Jordan Pickford to thank for keeping the scoreline respectable as he faced 36 attempts on goal.
Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side which beat Stoke; Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs coming in for Francis Coquelin and Laurent Koscielny. Alexis Sanchez was deemed fit enough to start after coming off at the weekend.
The Chilean had the Gunners first shot on target, firing over early on, and he thought he’d scored in the 8th minute but his shot from distance went in off the arm of Olivier Giroud and was disallowed by referee Roger East.
Cech had to make a good block, before Giroud was next to have a go, forcing a brilliant low save from Jordan Pickford after being set up wonderfully by Ramsey. From the resulting corner a heavy touch saw him squander a chance just in front of goal, allowing the visitors to clear.
Hector Bellerin was next to have a go, shooting over with his left foot, making it 4 efforts on goal in the opening 12 minutes. Rob Holding went on a run and saw a shot blocked, Xhaka fired a low effort straight at the keeper and then dragged one wide moments later.
It was all Arsenal, but for all the target practice they hadn’t found the breakthrough. Bellerin picked up a 22nd minute yellow card for deliberate handball, and for all the possession there was a sluggishness about Arsene Wenger’s side – perhaps the consequence of heavy legs after a punishing schedule.
It didn’t quite invigorate Sunderland but Cech had to make a smart save at his near post from Ndong, and minutes later had to make an even better one when Defoe got free and cracked a low effort towards the far post.
Arsenal lacked invention, summed up by Xhaka firing over from a good 40 yards, but Bellerin had the chance to square it across goal for Sanchez but instead chose to shoot from a tight angle and hit the outside the post.
Ramsey and Ozil combined well right at the end of the half, but Pickford pushed his shot around the corner. Going in level at the break after 17 attempts on goal was evidence of a team not at its sharpest, and but for Cech it might have been more difficult.
The second half began in bizarre fashion when Monreal played a back pass to Cech, thinking the keeper was somewhere he wasn’t, and when he palmed the ball away from goal the referee gave an indirect free kick from just inside our six yard box. Larsson’s delivery saw Xhaka head it over the bar for a corner and ultimately away to safety.
The Spaniard then picked up a yellow card for a foul on Larsson, Ramsey had a shot on target but again Pickford was relatively untroubled, and a good ball from Xhaka saw Alexis and Gibbs get in each others way at the back post.
From the corner Mustafi had a shot blocked, an Alexis free kick deflected wide off the wall, and when Xhaka found Ozil over the top with a brilliant pass you’d have put money on the German taking it on with just the keeper to beat but his control let him down for once and the chance went begging.
Giroud flicked a header wide from a Holding cross, before Arsene Wenger made two changes with Danny Welbeck replacing Ramsey (who looked like he had picked up an injury), and Alex Iwobi coming on for Gibbs.
The England man was quickly into the action, with a low shot pushed around the post but from the resulting corner we went ahead. The early ball came out to Xhaka, he played another lovely pas to Ozil first-time half-volley back across goal left Alexis with a tap-in. 1-0.
Ozil set up Xhaka who saw his low shot saved by Pickford, and the Sunderland keeper then denied Iwobi with another excellent stop. He could do nothing to stop Arsenal extending the lead however, and again it was Alexis on target. Bellerin put in a good cross from the right hand side, Giroud hooked it back across goal, the keeper got a hand to it and the Chilean was there to head home from close range. 2-0.
Mustafi’s goalbound header was tipped onto the bar by Pickford, Monreal fired a shot wide, and in the end after over 30 attempts on goal Arsenal were deserved winners, even if we did make hard work of it at times.